Colorado's annual legislative session began on Wednesday, with the usual pomp and ceremony and opening day speeches. The building had a back to school vibe, with families and friends joining lawmakers in the chamber, as it hummed with activity after the eight month interim. Isaac Slade, the lead singer of the Denver based rock band the Fray, sang the national anthem in the Senate.
But it wasn't all fun. The first bills are introduced on opening day, and lawmakers begin to outline their priorities for the next four months.
"If you work hard, you deserve to take a vacation, save for retirement and send your kids to college," said Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst (D-Boulder).
Hullinghorst gave a populist speech highlighting economic security for middle class families. "We must have an economy that works for all who work hard, where everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same rules," she added.
To that end, house Democrats are introducing a bill to allow parents to take unpaid time off from work to attend parent-teacher conferences and other school activities. Another bill aims to reorient college savings accounts to help less wealthy families.
Meanwhile, house GOP members said they would continue to stand firm against unnecessary regulations on Colorado businesses. The party is also not warming to an idea from the Governor to give flexibility under the Tax Payers Bill of Rights by making a hospital provider fee an enterprise. That would free up more money in the budget.
"While I agree that funding for education and transportation are critical to our state, but under no circumstances should that justify violating our state constitution," said House minority leader Brian Del Grosso (R-Loveland). "Our constitution guides us protects us and in many ways defines us."
The opening day speeches in the Senate were less policy specific, with minority leader Lucia Guzman (D-Denver) talking about her tough childhood in rural Texas and Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) highlighting what he considered the accomplishments of last session on school safety, reducing school testing and passing a balanced budget.
Lawmakers were also greeted with spruced up chambers. Workers finished a $6 million two-year renovation project uncovering a skylight at the top of each chamber and removing beige acoustic tiles to unveil vibrant color panels and ornate stenciling on the walls and ceiling.
"Isn't this amazing," said Cadman during his speech in the Senate, to loud applause. He went on to add, 'It's so much more than the granite and the steel and the glass and the marble, much more than the views. This place is the very symbol of the idea and ideals of freedom. This amazing structure stands as a tribute itself to a government entrusted to ensure that the man matters more than the state."